Jeff Liotard didn’t want just another community Thanksgiving dinner.
As the owner of Mountain Mike’s Pizza and a member of the Manteca Noon Rotary, Liotard had a few stipulations when he agreed to take on the load of organizing a dinner large enough to feed thousands of people regardless of where they come from, chief among them that it needed to be a dinner that he himself would want to sit down and eat.
And whether that’s turkey that was brined for days prior to being cooked, homemade mashed potatoes, or pumpkin pie with real whipped cream, the annual effort between the Manteca Rotarians, the Sunrise Kiwanis and the Manteca Police Department has checked all of those boxes off for those who don’t anywhere else to go on a holiday geared around family.
“That was important to me – it needed to be something that any of us would love to eat because that’s what this holiday is all about,” Liotard said. “And with a team of amazing volunteers who work hard to make this possible, we’ve been able to do that and it just keeps getting bigger and bigger each and every year.”
Donors and volunteers who made the Thanksgiving in Manteca possible shared their blessings with more than 1,500 people ranging from those that dropped by Mt. Mike’s to those where meals were taken to satellite locations or were delivered to shut-ins.
For those who didn’t have anywhere else to go, the dinner served as an opportunity to have the amenities of a sit-down family meal even when it might not be possible.
Gary Gillett said that he has been on the streets for the last four or five months, hampered by the cost of rental housing in Manteca which is holding him back despite the fact that he has a job. While he typically eats his Thanksgiving dinner with his sister and her family, that didn’t materialize this year and he thought he would have to go without until a friend told him about the dinner down at Mountain Mike’s.
“I totally thought that I wasn’t going to get to have a turkey dinner this year, and now I can say that is Thanksgiving because I’m getting to have that with all of the fixings,” Gillett said. “I think this is something that is very good for the community, and shows that everybody is willing to come together to help those may need a little bit of help.
“That’s what Thanksgiving is all about, and I’m grateful that people were willing to put this together today.”
Volunteers began the prep work of preparing almost 200 turkeys – with all of the sides that go with it – last weekend. The 48 hours prior to Thursday consisted of the typical rush of pushing through to the finish line so that the less fortunate, those without family in town, and senior citizens who enjoy getting out on a holiday can appreciate the meal that most people take for granted.
Sierra High School senior Lesley Carrillo, who is part of the school’s Interact Club – which is aligned with Rotary International – said that the experience of helping serve others has opened her eyes to the joys of volunteering and has prompted her to expand her horizons and take on other projects.
“It makes you feel good to know that the somebody might be having a meal that wouldn’t be able to without something like this,” Carrillo said. “This is something that brings people together and I think that’s what the spirit of the holidays is all about.
“I was able to help a couple of people today who looked like they needed it, and being a part of a group that make somebody’s day a little bit better like that is why I do this.”
To contact reporter Jason Campbell email email@example.com or call 209.249.3544.